seal  Purdue News

August 29, 2003

Purdue agricultural and biological engineering tops in nation

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering is ranked first in the nation for its undergraduate agricultural engineering program, according to U.S. News and World Report magazine's annual rankings released Aug. 22.

Linna Wang
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The ranking for specialty programs, such as agricultural engineering, is based on a survey of educators at schools of engineering across the country. The magazine, in its spring 2003 edition, also ranked Purdue's agricultural and biological engineering graduate program second nationally.

"These rankings tells us that, in the collective opinion of the nation's engineering leadership, this department is the best," said Larry Huggins, associate dean of engineering and former department head of agricultural and biological engineering, which jointly operates in the School of Agriculture and the Schools of Engineering.

Other university officials credit the strengths of the department faculty.

"Our faculty have been leaders in many of the recent advances in agricultural and biological engineering," said Linda P.B. Katehi, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. "This is not a coincidence – this recognition has come to fruition through the truly interdisciplinary efforts of our faculty."

Some significant advances to come from Purdue's agricultural and biological engineering faculty involve alternative and renewable sources of energy from plants such as corn and soybeans, according to department head Vince Bralts.

"In the future, materials such as plastics made from fossil fuels will be supplanted with renewable materials such as biopolymers," Bralts said. "Biomaterials could represent a significant industry for Indiana in the coming decades."

In this field, he credits Mike Ladisch, distinguished professor and director of the Laboratory for Renewable Resources Engineering (LORRE), and Bernie Tao, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, with bringing recognition to the department.

Tao studies methods of using soybeans to make a variety of industrial and commercial products, ranging from candles to diesel fuel to home heating oil. He also is involved with precollege science education efforts and the soybean utilization contest for undergraduates, and has sponsored several award-winning undergraduate research projects.

Ladisch, inventor of a method of using corn to dry and purify ethanol, holds 14 patents for his research at Purdue. A member of the National Academy of Engineers, he has chaired research and policy committees with the National Research Council and the U.S. Department of Energy. He is currently refining methods to produce a variety of materials from corn stalks and leaves.

Ladisch also is collaborating with several faculty in the Department of Food Science to develop sensors that can quickly detect the presence of the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes in foods like hot dogs.

In addition to research in renewable energy, Bralts credits the department's strengths in machine systems, environmental and natural resources, and food production and processing.

"Expertise in the electro-hydraulics area led by Gary Krutz, and recent publications in precision agriculture written by Dan Ess and Mark Morgan, have helped build our national reputation," Bralts said.

He also acknowledged the department's national reputation in outreach, led by Bill Field, professor and Extension safety specialist, to promote farm safety and provide assistance to farmers with physical disabilities.

"If you would like to stay No. 1, you need to define the role of your profession in improving the quality of life for everyone," Bralts said. "This ranking gives us a stronger voice than in the past to shape the direction of research, education and outreach in agricultural and biological engineering for years to come."

The Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering includes 24 faculty, as well as 247 undergraduate and 62 graduate students. The department graduates approximately 70 students each year, who are employed by organizations including Caterpillar, John Deere, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, General Mills, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, among others. Many graduates also choose to follow careers in research at agriculture and engineering schools across the country.

"Our department has a strong nationwide alumni presence in positions of leadership, " Huggins said.

Department alumni, for example, have held four of the last five presidencies of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, a nationwide professional society of agricultural and biological engineers.

"In addition, numerous company presidents, bank presidents and CEOs have graduated from our department," Bralts said.

"The recognition that comes with this ranking will open doors for our faculty, students and alumni. We are now in a better position to recruit top students and faculty, to give back to individuals and industries we serve, and to continue to grow as a department."

Writer: Jennifer Cutraro, 765-496-2050,

Sources: Vince Bralts, 765-494-1162,

Larry Huggins: 765-494-5349,

Linda P.B. Katehi: 765-494-5346,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


Related Web site:
Purdue Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering


Linna Wang, a graduate student with Purdue University associate professor Bernie Tao, tests the mechanical properties of an edible, biodegradable film she has developed using a protein associated with soybean oil. This film may be used as a biodegradable alternative to the plastics typically used in food packaging. (Agricultural Communications photo/Tom Campbell)

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